(Editor’s note: Rocky Nook publishes books on photography. Their books are written by photographers for photographers. Photofocus is publishing select chapters from the Rocky Nook Enthusiast’s Guide series each week. First up: The Enthusiast’s Guide to Composition)
Fill the frame
The concept is simple — when looking through the camera at the scene in front of you, do whatever you need to do to capture the scene without erroneous content on the periphery. Similar to the way that maintaining a healthy diet means regularly filling up on fruits and veggies rather than Twinkies and rocky road ice cream, the idea here is to fill the frame with meaningful content instead of random items in the background. This could mean changing your position, adjusting your angle, switching to a different lens, or most commonly, just stepping in and moving closer. Doing this one simple thing will instantly make the resulting image more captivating by removing clutter and drawing attention to your subject.
Pets provide a great opportunity to practice filling the frame. The next time your favorite critter inspires you to pick up your camera, look through the frame and ask yourself, “What am I seeing in this scene that doesn’t need to be here? Would I feel compelled to crop this later?”
Then, instead of shooting from wherever you happen to be, step closer and change your position in order to eliminate the clutter from the frame. Then, fill the frame only with whatever it is that inspired you to take the photo in the first place.
I shot this photo while buried beneath a crochet project. I managed to forever document my wrinkly pants while trying to take a simple photo of our cat, Merki. The resulting composition is confusing at best. Was my intended subject my wrinkled pants? My ambiguous crochet project? Or Merki (whom we can barely see), snoozing across the way?
A few crochet rows later, Merki had moved to another nearby chair. This time, I got up, stepped closer, and changed my angle (now shooting from above). The result is a much more interesting photo where Merki is the clear subject. Now, not only have I saved myself the hassle of having to crop the image later to trim the fat, but I’ve effectively dealt with my wrinkly pants — no ironing necessary. Another way to think of it is to shoot the photo the way you would want to crop it afterward.
Light bulb moment: photograph for the crop!
If you’re someone who regularly finds yourself feeling like you need to crop your photos to make them look better, not only will learning to fill the frame dramatically improve your images, but it will save you a lot of work on the back end. As if the threat of more work wasn’t bad enough, did you know that cropping can wreak havoc on your photos? (You may want to sit down for this one.) Not only is cropping for the sake of composition frowned upon, but it can limit your options for outputting the photo later by reducing the effective resolution. Your uncropped, straight-out-of-camera image may easily be printed as a large-scale, high-quality wall hanging. But once cropped, depending on how severely you’re compensating for your composition, you may barely have enough pixels left to make a postcard-size image look good.
To avoid this problem, shoot the way you’d want to crop later. If you’re trying to take a close-up headshot, for example, you should do just that: shoot a close-up headshot (as opposed to a full body or wider shot that includes other distracting elements). Cropping to clean up a messy background or sloppy composition can get you in trouble resolution-wise (not to mention that it’s just bad form). For example, the original, uncropped image above has enough pixels to be printed at upward of 42 x 36 inches. After doing some cropping, we’re left with a better composition (as shown ibelow), but we paid the price in pixels; as a result, the final image has a maximum high-quality print size of 5 x 7 inches.
The bottom line? When in doubt, get closer.
It makes a world of difference.
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